Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mirror mirror on the wall...who is the most fertile of them all?

Most of us have at one point or another been sternly warned about the dangers of forming relationships based solely on looks. However, even as the knowing eyebrow lifts and profound sentences such as “it’s not all about looks” or “it’s the inner beauty that counts” spill readily from the advisor’s lips, one cannot help but detect the hint of mock that flashes fleetingly across the eyes. This seemingly subliminal (although at times quite deliberate) reaction may echo wise and ingrained ancestral truths that have led to the successful reproduction of our endearing species.

For instance, Soler and colleagues (2003) have established an intriguing fact and one that women’s intuition may have already whispered at; namely that men with symmetrical faces (‘handsome’ in lay terms) enjoy the benefits of more mobile and healthy sperm than their homelier counterparts. Ladies, please, do try to stifle that self-satisfied smirk as you picture yourself swiftly judging the virility of a man just by a quick glance at the telling lines of his face. We, alas, are not excluded from this humbling biological marker that signals to our potential lovers our supposed adequacies and yes, unfortunately inadequacies. Our more attractive sisters according to Jasienka and colleagues (2006 ) are said to possess the essential ingredient of estradiol in larger quantities than our plain Janes and this, it is believed makes our lovelies more fertile.

Ok, so you might think that all this must have held immense importance for our ancestors but where does it fit in with modern humanity? So what if attractive people have more reproductive success? The modern world encompasses a variety of domains to showcase our abilities that have nothing to do with how successful we are at making a small, screaming baby. Almost with sadistic glee, psychologists Luxen and Buunk (2006) inform us that attractive persons are smarter too, and not only that, but according to Thornhill and Gangestad (2006) they get sick less often as well!

It seems then, that we should breathe a self-defeated sigh for all our homely friends (of course it must not be hinted that we ourselves may fall into that category). The unfortunate individuals are not only hindered in terms of reproductive success, but the virtue of intelligence is snatched away from their grip too. Ugliness and intelligence, apparently cannot dance the same dance. Oscar Wilde begged to differ and perhaps his quote “The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid” rings more true in our modern civilisation. We certainly pounce on the stereotype of beautiful but dumb models or the ugly but genius scientist. Perhaps this is a reflection of the modern era’s noble quest for equality that would have us surrender the Dorian Grays to the catwalk and leave the Oscar Wildes to the pursuit of intelligence. Hopefully, our minds have expanded enough from the ancestral ages to appreciate that every human possesses both elements to varying degrees. Beauty may draw potential lovers to one another, but inner beauty is the essential ingredient that keeps them together.

Published in Trespass Magazine, 1 August, 2010.

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